Of Mutts and Men (an excerpt from the latest Chet & Bernie Mystery)

By Spencer Quinn, December 2019

A rooftop chase? Who’s got it better than me?

            Chasing down perps is what we do, me and Bernie. We’re partners in the Little Detective Agency, Little being Bernie’s last name. I’m Chet, pure and simple. When it comes to chasing down perps, rooftop chasing is what you might call a specialty within a specialty, if you see what I mean. And if you don’t then … then actually I’m right there with you. The point is that rooftop chases don’t happen often, so when they do you’ve got to enjoy them with all your heart. No problem. Enjoying with all my heart is one of my best things, right up there with leaping and grabbing perps by the pant leg.

            There are two kinds of perps who get involved in rooftop chases. The first kind – and most perps are the first kind – realize pretty quick that it’s game over unless you’re up for doing something daring, and they’re all dared out by that time: you can see it in their eyes. The second kind of perp believes somewhere deep down that he can fly. What we had on this particular warehouse rooftop in the most rundown section of South Pedroia, which is the most rundown part of the whole Valley, was the second kind of perp.

            Our perp was tall and lean and ran very well. For a human, I should add, meaning he was in fact on the slowish side. I loped along behind him as he headed toward the edge of the roof. At the same time, I glanced back to see what was keeping Bernie. And there he was, popping up through the open hatchway from the top floor of the building. My Bernie! The sky was a fiery orange, the way the sky gets around here when the sun goes down, and so Bernie’s eyes and teeth were orange, too. There’s all kinds of beauty in life.

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            “Stop!” Bernie yelled. “Where the hell do you think you’re going?”

            The perp – have I mentioned that he was carrying a painting under one arm, a gold-framed painting of old-time cowboys around a fire, stolen, of course, which was why we were all here? – turned to Bernie and said, “None of your damn business.”

            “You’re missing the point.” Now Bernie was running, too. A very graceful runner, in my opinion, but hampered by the old war wound in one of his legs, only coming into play in situations like this. “Which is,” Bernie went on, huffing and puffing from all those stairs we’d climbed to get up here on the roof, “that you’ve got nowhere to – “

            Whatever was coming next – sure to be brilliant, since Bernie’s always the smartest human in the room – remained unsaid, because at that moment the perp reached the edge of the roof and just kept going. Yes, with his legs churning in the air, high over the alley separating this warehouse from the next one! This was something I’d seen in cartoons - of which Bernie and I had watched many in the period after his divorce from Leda – but never in real life. Nothing beats real life, amigo. I was thinking that very thought as I soared off the edge of the roof myself. Free! Free as a bird, although the tiny eyes of birds always look so angry to me, meaning all that freedom was wasted on them.

            Meanwhile the perp was touching down on the next rooftop. More or less. In fact, more less than more, since he ended up a bit short. All that actually touched down were the fingers of one hand, clutching desperately at the tarpaper surface of the roof. And now his other hand was clutching desperately, too, meaning the perp had to let go of the painting. It went spinning high in the air, the golden frame turning sunset orange.

            What a lot going on! No time to even think, which happens to be when I’m at my best. In a flash I snagged the painting right out of the air, landed on the roof, nice and smooth – sticking the landing, as Bernie calls it – then let the painting go, wheeled around and trotted over to the perp.

            He seemed to be hanging from the roof by his fingertips. That couldn’t have been easy. I felt proud of him in a way, as though he belonged to me. Which he sort of did, although he probably didn’t realize it yet. I looked down at him. He looked up at me. His eyes were … how to put this? Terrified, maybe? Something like that.

            “Help. Help me.”

            He turned out to have a squeaky voice, not at all pleasant, especially to ears like mine, so sensitive to the tinny and the shrill.

            “Chet?”

            That was Bernie, calling from the first rooftop. He stood at the edge, his lovely face a bit worried, for no reason I could see.

            “Be careful, big guy. Don’t take any risks.”

            “Huh?” said the perp, still hanging off the roof and now kicking his legs a bit, as though … as though he might swim his way up. What a strange thought! Meanwhile I was trying to remember what a risk was, but it just wouldn’t come.

            “Help! Help me!”

            Poor guy. The swimming thing wasn’t working at all and he seemed to be slip-slip-slipping. I went to the edge with the idea of leaning over, grabbing him by the scruff of the neck, and then digging in with my paws and hoisting him up, but before I could start any of that, he flailed out with one hand and grabbed onto one of my front legs.

            “Let him go!” Bernie shouted.

            “But – but then I’ll fall.”

            “So what?” Bernie said.

            “Really?” said the perp.

            Although not particularly strong-looking, he turned out to have an iron grip, at least in this particular situation. I tried to pull my leg free but got nowhere, and began sliding closer and closer to the edge.

            Bernie reached into his pocket, drew the .38 Special. “Let him go or I’ll shoot,” he said.

            “I’ll take my chances,” said the perp.

Whoa! Didn’t he know Bernie was a crack shot, could shoot holes through dimes spinning in midair? What other reason could there be for such a strange remark? I decided to forgive him, although Bernie didn’t look like he was in a forgiving mood. In fact, I’d never seen him so mad. His face looked almost ugly, maybe the most astonishing sight I’d seen in my whole life. He jammed the .38 Special back in his pocket, lowered his head, started running in a quick little circle, and then charged toward us across the roof.

No, Bernie, no! Not with your bad leg! Stay! Sit! Stay!

Sit stay, as I knew very well, only works some of the time. It didn’t work on Bernie, not now. He came soaring – kind of - across the gap between the warehouses, cleared it by plenty – or at least some - and stuck the landing - just about!

“Ouch,” he said, but not loud. Then he picked himself up and hurried over, reached down, grabbed our perp by the collar and kind of flipped him right up and onto the roof.

The perp lay panting on his back. Between pants, he said, “Thanks, buddy. My whole life flashed before my eyes.”

“Punishment enough,” Bernie said.

The perp’s eyes widened. “You … you mean you’re letting me go?”

Bernie gazed down at him. His anger faded away, real fast, and he started laughing. He laughed and laughed, not in the least angry anymore, but happy. That made me happy! I was so happy I came close to prancing around on the rooftop. But that wouldn’t have been professional, so instead I grabbed the perp by the pant leg, the most professional move that came to mind.

Case closed.


Excerpted from Of Mutts and Men, by Spencer Quinn, © 2020. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, Forge Books. See the cover revealed here.